We had some friends over the other night. After some small talk, we got into some serious discussions on several issues. One of them was civil disobedience. One of the guests said, “When do you think it’s right for Christians to engage in civil disobedience?” He clarified his question by noting that under the present federal administration, a number of bills are being passed or are on the table that may have very strong implications for believers. For example, one of the health care bills being debated in Congress is known as “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.” That’s the title that the authors gave to the bill.
It hasn’t passed Congress yet. The reason is not Republican resistance (since the Republicans are such a small minority in the Congress now, they really don’t have the numbers by themselves to stop any legislation), but Blue Dog Democrats who are deeply concerned about how the government will pay for all the legislation being passed.
Some of the issues that have come up regarding this current bill, however, are ethical more than economic. Ironically, it has taken outsiders to point out these issues to Congress because most representatives have not read the bill! Even President Obama admitted last week that he had not read the bill, even though he has been promoting it heavily.
It is also ironic that one of the major reasons for rising health care costs is the built-in cost of litigation, something that generally is viewed favorably by liberals, less favorably by conservatives. (One physician told me several years ago that, even though he had never been sued for malpractice, he had to pay $100,000 in lawsuit protection insurance annually.) So, in one respect, the reason the health care costs are rising so quickly is because of liberal judges. The health care problems thus are somewhat created by liberalism, and now a liberal health care plan is supposed to solve these problems? Isn’t that like having the fox watch the chicken coop?
Back to the ethical concerns. On pp. 425–26, the bill mentions mandatory counseling for the elderly. It says, among other things, that the counseling (from a health ‘practitioner’) will include “a continuum of end-of-life services… including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services…” This means that the counselor is required to tell the patient about the positive benefits of euthanasia. The details are not laid out in the bill, which should always make us nervous. Several analysts are reading this statement to mean that the elderly will be counseled on how to end their life sooner.
Some have likened this to Hitler’s Aktion T4 memo, which he wrote on the day that WWII broke out (September 1, 1939). In it, Hitler reportedly told physicians to kill those who were judged to be incurably sick. But is the current healthcare bill really that bad? After all, it doesn’t give physicians the right to kill the elderly, only to counsel them. Interestingly, the wording in Hitler’s Aktion T4 did not seem to give physicians that right either. It said, “Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are charged with the responsibility for expanding the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, can be granted a mercy death.” This sounds as though the patient had the right to ask for euthanasia from the doctor, but not that the doctor had a mandate to take the life of the patient. Again interestingly, how this was played out was otherwise: almost 300,000 patients were killed under the authority of this memo, regardless of the patients’ wishes. Obviously, any comparisons made between the current situation, whatever it may be, and Hitler’s policies, needs to be nuanced carefully. I am not suggesting that the health care bill involves policies that are every bit as bad as Hitler’s euthanasia order. I am just making observations about the wording in both.
There’s another ethical problem in this bill for Christians: according to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill uses tax-payer money to pay for abortions. Not only this, but it promotes abortions by requiring all insurance providers to contract with ‘essential community providers,’ such as Planned Parenthood (which aborted over 300,000 babies in 2007) claims to be.
These are disturbing trends. If this health care bill—or the one that will eventually end up on the President’s desk—include the euthanasia directives and funding for abortions, how should Christians respond? Is it time for civil disobedience? And, if so, what would that look like? Would it merely be a reaffirmation of the Tenth Amendment which gives States rights over the Federal Government (to date, several states have recently signed legislation that simply reasserts the Tenth Amendment because they see the Federal Government as usurping their Constitutionally-protected rights)? Would it merely be voting out of office any who voted for the health care bill (which would, technically, not really be civil disobedience)? Or would it be stronger action still? Would it include refusal to pay taxes if a portion of those taxes went to euthanasia counseling and abortions? Would it involve more than that? And if so, how do we reconcile this with the Lord’s teaching to ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s’? After all, the Roman taxes paid for the Roman army—the same army that was often very hostile (to put it mildly!) to Jews and Christians.
To be sure, some Christians think that overall the government is moving in the right direction. They argue that President Obama is enacting legislation that rights the wrongs of decades of social injustice. And they are tolerant of Roe, even arguing that although they would never abort a child, they have no problems supporting a government that does. Is this a legitimate viewpoint? At what point should such Christians say that the bad in the government policies outweigh the good?
The issues being raised here are complex. I suspect that very strong opinions on either side will come out in the comments section. Let the debate begin!